The Statue (Short Story)

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by kalasle, Aug 5, 2018.

  1. kalasle

    kalasle Forum Royalty

    I was going through old writing and remembered a short story that I wrote a few years ago. It's very specific to Pox, and my one-time love for this game and for Xulos as a character, so it's impossible to use it for anything else. It's inspired by the flavor text from Archfiend. I still like how it turned out, so I wanted to share it with the only few people who understanding the setting and the background. I'm not back, and I never will be. Cheers.

    ____________________________________________

    I don’t trust him.


    Serkan’s return had not spelled the immediate and gruesome end to his apprentice. On the contrary, Xulos had taken an even more visible role since the puppet broke. Serkan kept Xulos around as a powerplay, kept Xulos under his thumb to show he could. And for that, Kalindras thought Serkan a fool.


    It didn’t surprise anyone, not the lieutenants, not even Tachrim, and that’s why I don’t trust him: anyone who knew Serkan’s mind well enough to make a perfect copy, so that the transition from lie to reality felt like a change of clothes or a new coat of paint -- that person had contingencies, that person was ready. You don’t keep them around. He’s planning.


    Xulos wove in and out of Kalindras’s mind as he wandered through the streets of the city, though the haunting had not begun today, nor even with Serkan’s return five months prior, but when Kalindras first saw Xulos, the day Kalindras was jettisoned from the front lines and ordered back to Elsarin because of


    that damn boy


    although Xulos had seemed to care little, then or now. Kalindras worked his way through the alleys and roads, hemmed in grey on black on grey under that same sky, watching the mindless laborers hauling carts much too large for them but which, by tireless and undeathly effort, would eventually make it to their final resting place. Sometimes he saw two of those young and living things bickering or standing in silence in a stone doorway.


    It’s the way he talks that does it, without ever looking anywhere at all except at everyone, and preaching about the grand designs and dreams of Serkan. Like I was just one member of the laity, the rest of which I couldn’t see but which must surely be there --


    The gate. Kalindras had almost walked headfirst into it. He gestured aimlessly and the two thralls heaved open the iron bars of the manor. Meals were the worst part of the night, the times when Kalindras was forced back to the home of his lineage, to endure the company of those other few who, for one reason or another, also remained in Elsarin. Upon working his way down to the dining room, surprise and relief swept over him; the high-backed chairs sat empty, the ties on the long table loose and unbuckled, the torches touching the velvet drapes and nothing else. But then a voice spoke from the far corner.


    “Welcome back, cousin. It’s been too long.”


    Rorsch smiled, showing his teeth.


    That grin, he needs to quit that grin, makes him look like a mangy cat, not a vampyre. An animal, not a damn vampyre. Without much of anything other than that weak and ugly grin and nothing to show for it. If it had to be just one other here, of course it would be him, of course.


    “Evening.”


    Rorsch’s mouth grew whiter.


    “Excellent! I’m glad we’re back on speaking terms. I’ve been looking forward to eating since yesterday,”


    Scum.


    “What a treat.”


    Rorsch flicked his wrist at the door without a glance. Screams started up in the halls below, and then Kalindras remembered it was Tuesday.


    He knew, that’s why of course it would be him here, because he knew that it was Tuesday and he knows what that means.


    On cue the thralls emerged from the catacomb door, naked subjects in hand, and, as on every Tuesday, that young woman of the mountains looking directly at him with those eyes of bitterness and fear and defiance that he could not deny as he had the eyes of


    that damn boy on the field and his words of


    as the thralls were leading her and the dwarf from Rorsch’s stock to the long dining table where the strapping down and buckling for feeding would never stop her struggling or screaming or the bitterness and rage.


    Although it was the dwarf that looked much worse. He had scars across his back, cuts on his limbs, and even a small claw hole at the base of his beaten and defeated shoulder. Besides the marks where she struggled against the bindings, she had just the two small pricks upon her neck.


    It suited Rorsch, but it didn’t suit Kalindras, this arrangement -- keeping the mortals around like cattle.


    and us like butchers, without a drop of anything in the empty bloodshed


    Rorsch didn’t bite yet, just lazily started to flick open nicks on the dwarf’s back. The dwarf didn’t make a sound. Kalindras hadn’t bitten either, and although she hadn’t stopped struggling, she had stopped the screaming. A fingernail sent a few more specks of blood across the table.


    “Oh, not hungry? Is something troubling you?”


    And it was, it had been, in the way he hadn’t ever quite caught Xulos’s eyes but almost knew what he would find if he did, and it would not be what he had seen in the eyes of


    that damn boy. Ignorant boy. Not knowing enough to die in a spasm of violence, as befitting our mutual time and place, but instead he had to look at me like that. Not knowing that his home was already burnt and blackened behind him and lost, his general out-maneuvered and out-manned, he should have fled for that little scrap of life which would be his but only briefly, to then be cut down in due course by whatever foe -- myself -- lay closest to his desperate and ignoble flight. But instead he had to look at me like that. Green eyes in a face of twenty-some paper-thin years. Ignorant boy, to think that in that one second he could say with just those eyes


    You do not know what it is to die for honor and homeland and shall never know it, that which drives us forward; You are a monster over whom I shall forever hold an even more immortal power of dignity and resolve and impermanence. Your attack here means not a victory but a defeat for those things which mark the greatest passings of a race, a line, which may now at last crumble with me on this very spot but which will always be held higher by having a spot on which it at last fell, be held high by its ability to accept falling with all of those qualities you shall never know”


    and so expect me to grant him a victory like that. That damn ignorant boy who could not even see his hopes dashed upon the ground with my discarded sword, who mistook the loss of his greatest weapon for a chance at survival. And damn him that his real defeat would cost me my imprisonment here, because of those too blind to know the reality, who saw only a defective lieutenant, rather than the real victor.


    The room had paused, as had she, as had Rorsch, one sharp nail suspended sometime before or after action, waiting for that flash of irritation. It didn’t come. Kalindras had paused with the room. Rorsch bit down.


    He took a long, slow pull of blood, and then rose back up, wiping a trickle from his lip. He looked down at Kalindras’s untouched meal.


    “And Xulos goes to all this trouble to provide us with food. You have to give him credit, he’s a good caterer -- if nothing else.”


    That moved Kalindras.


    “And you think you know Xulos?”


    “Serkan laid him bare, him and that silly plan of his. Unwilling, you notice, to take any credit for himself, relying on a puppet for protection. A coward and a fool, I say. Cowed, beaten, and reduced to a chef, where he should stay.”


    “He had you fooled.”


    Rorsch scoffed.


    “I had never met Serkan. Now that I have, I certainly couldn’t be fooled again.”


    “You’ve never met Xulos, either.”


    “I don’t need to meet Xulos to know what he is, to know he is a weak and fretful inventor who has so far managed only to invent himself a tighter coffin.”


    With that, he dug a sharp gash into the dwarf, eliciting, at last, a squirm.


    “Stop that! Stop that petty, wasteful idiocy. These mortals are to eat, they are not toys or playthings for your amusement. And instead, Rorsch, you disgrace our lineage for your idle leisure, treating it like a cat does a bird, like a beast does its -- ... I will not waste my time on a lost cause.”


    Kalindras strode out of the hall, tossing his hand to the side, the thralls thus carrying the girl -- untouched -- back into the passages below. Silent.


    He found himself once again wandering Elsarin. Now hungry, the occasional living body glowed out from its surrounding, throbbing against the black and perpetual night. He had no aim but, unerringly, wound his way on where he only half knew to go: up towards the ruins of the old city, towards the cliffs by the lake. With the lamps gone and behind him, the light further deadened, to not even moonlight, just a necromantic glow. The facade of a functional metropolis fell away as he moved further out. Instead of harsh stone buildings and streets, the land became only ruins, the abject and forlorn partners of the Catastrophe’s mass graves -- exhumed, used, and nothing more. Kalindras marched on.


    A lone necromancer, young, knelt over a small mound of earth, wrapped in fierce mutterings and gestures on the edge of desperation. As Kalindras passed, the man looked up, his mouth slightly parted in fear -- not directed at Kalindras, or the work to do, or even at anything in particular, just fear. He turned back to the dirt.


    Kalindras continued to follow the shallow incline of the Old City. The wind picked up, and off the preternaturally still waters of the Quietus came a slight breeze, with a thin and weak sting of salt, as though part of the sea had lost its way and drowned in the lake. Then another smell moved within the wind, and up ahead came the faint sounds of masons at work. They came into view; a huge mass of stone and steel and tarp rose above the dip in the horizon. It clawed to the very edge of the cliffs, nascent and indistinct. Then the moon whispered out from the clouds over the lake and the scene emerged into the pale and vast light; the space above the glassy water wide and silent and endless to the invisible shore, just beyond the reach of the cliffs, beneath the watchful, defeated moon, and at the center of the stage, still unfinished, but being built, growing, ascending towards the heavens as a fallen angel would, reaching up to pull the dark drapes of the sky back down with it -- a statue.


    The shape remained in skeletal outline, covered almost in its entirety by a heavy, pitch-colored construction tarp. All that escaped the cloak was the end of a -- completed -- boot. Save the pale moonlight, Kalindras couldn’t have seen it, the color was so similar to the murky folds around it.


    With a suddenness, not quick but unexpected, a figure emerged from the night next to Kalindras. He must have been sitting on one of the headstones at the cliff, watching the progress.


    “Good evening.”


    Xulos spoke with that same depthless lilt, the same uncagable eyes as when Kalindras had first met him. This was only their second time in direct conversation. They both stood facing the project and, beyond that, the lake.


    “Good evening, sir.”


    “Yes, it is.”


    Kalindras was still uncomfortable; Xulos always spoke to more people than those present. He didn’t seem to focus on anything, but never seemed unfocused, like giving a sermon to the very air, the earth itself.


    “Elsarin suites you better than the front.”


    “I am eager to return, sir.”


    Xulos neither moved, nor even spoke, not for almost a minute. The paced, clicking work of the skeletal masons mixed with the fainting breeze.


    “There was something for which you wished to meet.”


    Kalindras remained silent for a moment, although it wasn’t to think.


    “I want to exchange the girl.”


    “Your meal today. Very well.”


    “The dwarf. Rorsch’s meal is a dwarf. I want to switch them.”


    Xulos did not move, but his voice spread in magnanimity. No question, no scepticism, no justification, no hesitation.


    “Certainly.”


    They almost looked at each other. Kalindras turned his eyes once again to the project at the shore. He had recognized what it was. Perhaps that was dangerous.


    “I admire the detail on the foot. The masons have captured the likeness well.”


    “Few would know it right now. But more will come to know, with time.”


    Xulos’s intonation never wavered, never broke. Quietly, the work continued nearby. The two remained for a moment, side by side, watching. Kalindras started to leave, but then he paused -- hesitated.


    “Does Lord Sekan know about this?”


    Then Xulos turned, and I finally caught -- or, perhaps, they caught me -- those blank and black and hate-stitched eyes.


    “Our lord Serkan knows everything.”
     
    Bondman007, Etherielin and Gnomes like this.
  2. Gnomes

    Gnomes I need me some PIE!

    Great story!
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018

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